When we talk about the future most of us struggle to recognise what changes are coming and the impact these will have on our lives and work. There is a common tendency to think only about the next year or two and to dismiss anything beyond that as science fiction.
In my talks to accountants about the need to evolve their practices I address both the near and longer-term future. However the takeaways from my talks focus on the need to take action specifically by reference to the changes we know are coming over the next year or two.
I had been looking for a way to make this focus on the near-future clearer on my website and then I noticed what my friend Guy Clapperton, who is not an accountant, had done.
I’ll let Guy explain this in his own words:
As a 30-years-experienced tech journalist and as a speaker I attend a lot of conferences as you’d expect. I see a lot of speakers, some of whom are excellent and some are truly bum-numbing. Most, though, are very good.
There’s a subset of these who call themselves ‘futurists’. They come in a variety of shapes and sizes. Some are really brilliant, they can keep you spellbound with ideas of what’s likely to happen over the next 30 years. The only thing is, edging into my mid-fifties, I’m no longer quite so certain that the end of thirty years away will be much of my concern! Realising if not liking this, I got to reflecting that even if I’m still around, I’d hope to be enjoying a good retirement by then. So all the stuff about how we’ll be working in 2049 is a bit academic for me.
That’s why I came up with the concept of a Near Futurist. I’m not kidding myself, someone else is bound to have come up with it too, but I thought it would be a good way to talk to people. And that’s what I do at tech conferences. The idea is that I’ll do something to open up the possibility that there’s something someone can do to transform their business the day they return to the office rather than when the whole world’s been taken over by sentient robots or whatever.
Whilst Guy and I speak to different audiences and address different specifics, I share his thinking here and so the aim and intention of my talks are much the same as Guy.
Guy’s says his approach is based on observation and long experience as a commentator rather than scientific research. In my case, my experience comes from having been in practice for over 25 years and then a mentor and commentator in the accountancy world for a further 12 plus years.
Both Guy and I recognise that there are some superb researchers out there and we’re not trying to replace them.
Like Guy, I’ve been really impressed by some of the people I have heard speaking about the future. They typically offer exciting or even scary prophecies and then extrapolate from the general to the specific for the accountancy profession. Such talks can be quite absorbing and fascinating. But equally they are often based on assumptions and misconceptions about our profession.
Guy shares this story to reveal when he had his epiphany:
I went to college in 1983. There were these things called phonecards just starting up at the time. Like a pre-paid gift card we have now, you’d use them in a phone box. I was still stuck using 10p pieces – student budget, what can I tell you…anyway, I came back from college and got a job.
Feeling flush, I went to a garage and asked for a phone card. The guy was bewildered and asked whether I wanted a pre-paid card for a mobile phone. That was when it was obvious to me that everyone would have a mobile phone – no mass research, no focus groups, but if the garages had stopped selling phonecards they were on the way out.
Much more recently I’ve been looking at the use of cash. It’s also on the way out. I don’t say that because I’ve researched it in depth but because when you ask people when they were last offered cash back in a supermarket they’re stumped. If the supermarkets aren’t offering you cash it’s because they think there’s no call for it any more. I wouldn’t want to be a Big Issue salesperson in an environment like that.
My own epiphany only came in the autumn of 2016.
I had been invited to San Jose as an accountancy influencer guest of Intuit. Back in 2009 I was dismissing the early hype around cloud accounting. I accepted that it was the way of the future, but I felt that the hype in 2009 was well over the top and premature.
Then, in 2016, whilst at Intuit’s conference in San Jose I quickly realised that there was now more to cloud accounting than had previously been apparent to me. Much more. And I determined that the move to MTD provides UK accountants with the perfect rationale for migrating clients, and your own practice, to the cloud and then widening the services you offer to clients.
The other key point here is that I learned that cloud accounting isn’t just about the online bookkeeping system. It also involves the related apps, add-ons and extensions. You’ll need to decide which ones you favour and can recommend to clients, which ones you will want new clients to use, which ones will help clients with distinct set-ups and whether to charge fees for the related work and advice.
The real choice is whether to factor such fees into your recurring annual fee or to charge for the related work and advice separately. There is no need to do any of this for free.
Going back to talks about the future, I was taken by a simple example Guy offers to explain the sort of point he addresses:
There’s a lovely old Sherlock Holmes quote in which he asks Watson how many stairs there are in their house. Watson understandably says he’s never thought about it. Holmes says there are 17, which Watson has seen many times – he has ‘seen’ but not ‘observed’. So I try to get audiences to observe as well as see, and look for the signs of change that are probably all around them but which they haven’t noticed because they’re part of it.
Guy also produces a fortnightly podcast under the ‘Near Futurist’ brand. He typically talks to thought leaders and experts on what’s changing and how to cope with it. I was delighted when he asked to interview me for his podcast. You can hear how this came out here >>>